THE much-loved stepping stones river crossing at Bolton Abbey is in the process of being restored and repaired, and will re-open later in the year, says the estate.

Multiple storms since 2022 have resulted in the loss of around a dozen of the 57 stones across the River Wharfe, below the priory ruins, making the crossing impassable; but now, work is underway by the Bolton Abbey Estate for its careful and painstaking restoration.

Once the ancient right of way for the Augustinian monks going to and from the Priory, the stones have become an attraction for generations of visitors, young and old, who have enjoyed using them to ford their way across the water.

A landmark in the history of both the Priory and surrounding area, photographic records from the 1800s show the stepping stones standing proud of the water even before the first bridge was built in 1899. It’s believed the estate workmen who built the bridge were entertained with a knife and fork tea in the rectory garden.

A spate river, the water level of the Wharfe rises and falls quickly following rainfall as the large number of surrounding ‘becks’ or streams which carry water from the surrounding countryside swell.

Despite the strong torrents of water during storms, the well embedded stones are not washed away but rather knocked out by large debris such as entire trees and branches which are naturally carried in high waters.

The plans to refurbish the crossing have been in development for more than two years, with consent granted for the project by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority last autumn and following consultation with organisations including Environment Agency, Natural England, and Historic England as well as local angling clubs and river bailiffs.

The time of year to start works has been guided by the spawning and migratory seasons of fish, ensuring there is no disruption to the local spawning salmonid fish including Brown Trout and Grayling.

The work is also dictated by the river levels and temperatures. The agreed license also necessitates that a shroud - silt curtain - be placed across the river to catch any silt that may shift as a result of realigning and placing the stones, with regular monitoring throughout. The riverbed, river banks and compound site will all be restored to their former condition on completion.

The work will be taking place over the coming months, weather permitting, during which time the stepping stones and a section of the river both upstream and downstream will be closed for the health and safety of visitors.

Martin Hartley, principle building surveyor at Bolton Abbey, said: “Conservation and maintenance is a hugely important part of the ongoing investment in the Bolton Abbey Estate. The stepping stones have needed some attention after the last few years where the weather has been fiercer and unpredictable, however it is essential that the restoration of our historic stepping stones is done in the right way to safeguard them so that future generations of visitors can continue to enjoy them for years to come.

“Respect for the care and protection of the River Wharfe’s rich biodiversity is of the upmost importance in ensuring the works cause the least possible disruption for our surrounding environment whilst we return our much-loved stepping stones to their former glory. We are grateful to our local consultants and communities who have helped progress and support this project and we look forward to bringing our visitors on the last stage of the journey with us before welcoming everyone back to enjoy them all once again.

The 20 new stones have been sourced from a local reclamation yard by, Thomas Moore Landscapes, based in Ilkley.

The stepping stones are just one of many ongoing conservation projects taking place under the guidance of the estate’s team of experts, with a full structural survey of the Priory Ruins scheduled to take place in 2024.

The ongoing moorland management and conservation, including protecting the habitat of the endangered curlew and the threatened lapwing, is being showcased to the public across several Moorland Safaris taking place in May and June.

Visitors can also enjoy separate talks including an introduction to woodland birds, a fungal foray and bat walks below the Priory Ruins as part of Bolton Abbey’s ‘Closer to Nature’ programme aimed at sharing the vast knowledge of the estate team of the beautiful surrounding environment.

Bolton Abbey is owned by the Chatsworth Settlement Trustees, a discretionary trust set up by the Duke of Devonshire. Money raised through the estate car park fee is funding the restoration project.

For more information on these events and the conservation work being undertaken at Bolton Abbey, please visit their website: